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Leading the Way: Sir John Monash

The Engineer


Sources for all text: John Monash: A Biography by Geoffrey Serle (Melbourne University Press, 1982) and Monash by Vernon R. Northwood with assistance from Dr. Gershon Bennett (State Electricity Commission of Victoria, 1950)


John Monash completed his secondary schooling at Scotch College in 1881, where he was equal Dux of the school and Dux in Mathematics and Modern Languages. He subsequently enrolled in the Arts faculty at Melbourne University with the intention of becoming an engineer.

In 1885 before completing his degree, he found employment on the new Princes Bridge and over the next two years assisted the contractor David Munro on this and other bridges in the Footscray, Moonee Ponds and Coburg areas.

In April 1888 he was appointed to take charge of the Outer Circle railway works, an eastern suburban line from Oakleigh to Fairfield via Camberwell, for the contractors Graham and Wadick. The project was completed in January 1891 and Monash subsequently took up a position with the Harbor Trust where he remained for two and a half years during the worst of the depression and was able to continue his studies part-time.

 
Certificate of Competency, Municipal Surveyor 1891
 
Certificate of Competency, Engineer of Water Supply, Victoria 1891
University of Melbourne Testamur, Master of Civil Engineering 1893
Above: Certificate of Competency as Municipal Surveyor, 1891
 
Above: Certificate of Competency as Engineer of Water Supply, Victoria, 1892
 
Above: University of Melbourne Testamur - Master of Civil Engineering, 1893

 
In August 1891 Monash completed the municipal surveyors course, and in November 1891 enrolled as a student of the Supreme Court. In 1892 he began studying the water supply engineers course and also completed his BA. He took out his master's degree in engineering early in 1893, and formally graduated in Arts and Law in 1895.

In June 1894 the firm of Monash & Anderson opened in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. Joshua T. Noble Anderson had been a friend of Monash's since tutoring him for the water supply engineer's exam in 1891, and the two set up as civil, mining and mechanical engineers, and patent agents. Monash also came into demand as an advocate and expert witness in legal-engineering work, and between 1897 and 1899 spent much time in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. In September 1897 Monash & Anderson became the Victorian agents for Monier reinforced concrete construction. This led to their involvement in the building of the Anderson Street (Morell) bridge over the Yarra and becoming contractors for the Fyansford (Barwon River) and other Victorian bridges. They also took up pipe manufacture forming, with David Mitchell, the Monier Pipe Co. Pty. Ltd. of Victoria in 1901.

 
Photo - John and Victoria Monash with workmen at the Fyansford Bridge 1899  
Photo - Construction of the Morell (Anderson Street) Bridge
Above: John and Victoria Monash (left) with workmen at the Fyansford Bridge, 1899.
 
Above: Construction of the Morell (Anderson Street) Bridge, a "monier arch" bridge over the Yarra River, 1899.

 

In 1905 the Monash and Anderson partnership was dissolved and a new company, the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Pty. Ltd. created, to concentrate on the use of reinforced concrete in general building construction. The company undertook work on tanks, culverts, silos, country post offices, suburban banks and warehouses. The South Australian Reinforced Concrete Co. Ltd. which Monash established (in partnership with E. H. Bakewell, David Mitchell, John Gibson and C. H. Angas) in 1907 was also a great success.

Although the Monier patents expired the Victorian company continued to do well and carried out work on the Town Hall, the Melbourne Hospital, the State Savings Bank head office, the Centre Way Arcade and various government buildings, as well as bridge and road works.

 
Drawing - Portable sections for septic tank 1906  
Left: Portable sections for septic tank,
dated October 30, 1906

Right: Details of Conduits, dated September 4, 1911.

Both drawings are signed in bottom right hand corner

 
Drawing - details of conduits 1911

 
Following the end of the war, and the completion of his duties with the Australian Forces in Europe, Monash was reunited with his family in England. During this time he received honorary degrees at Oxford and Cambridge. His book 'The Australian Victories in France in 1918' was later submitted to the University of Melbourne as a thesis on the subject of engineering applied to modern warfare and on it he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Engineering, the first to be awarded by an Australian University.
 
Photo - The Encoenia, Oxford 1919
 
Certificate - Doctor of Engineering 1921, University of Melbourne
 

Above: The Encoenia, Oxford, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Laws in 1919

Back row: Prof. H. Pirenne, Rear Admiral Sir W. Hall, Dr Blakiston (Vice-Chancellor), F.W. Pember (Warden); front row: Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, General Sir John Monash, General J. Pershing, Marechal Joseph Jacques Joffre, Rt. Hon. Earl Curzon (Chancellor), General Sir Douglas Haig, Admiral Sir David Beatty, Dr H.C. Hoover, General Sir H.H. Wilson.

Doctor of Engineering, 1921 (top right), and Doctor of Laws, 1922 (bottom right) both awarded by the University of Melbourne

 
Certificate - Doctor of Laws 1922, University of Melbourne
 
After Monash's triumphant return to Australia he briefly took up his business activities again before withdrawing from his companies in 1920, after agreeing to become General Manager of the State Electricity Scheme, formed in the previous year. He assumed office as Chairman of the new State Electricity Commission early in 1921. The commission was established to develop open cut mining of the huge deposits of brown coal in the La Trobe Valley and to build the installations, which would transmit power statewide. In 1924 the first of the electricity from Yallourn was received in the city, and in the 1927 the SEC showed a profit.

"The creativity, loyalty and affection [Monash] inspired seem to have few or no parallels in any other large Australian corporation. [He was] a champion who saw the SEC through to an unusual position of public pride and acclaim for a State instrumentality."

 
Photo - Group outside Albury Town Hall 1926
Left: Group outside Albury Town Hall after civic reception to mark the switch-on of Yallourn power at Albury, May 1926 (Monash front row fourth from left)

     
Photo - Sir John Monash with colleagues ar construction site 1926
 
Sir John Monash at Wodonga Sub-station 1926
Above: Two images of Sir John Monash with unidentified colleagues at construction site, Wodonga Sub-station, Albury May 1926. Monash can be seen at left in left hand side image and on right in right hand side image.
 
In these last years Monash was also closely associated with the building of Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance. He was a member of the executive committee formed in 1921 and of the site sub-committee, and chairman of the assessors choosing the design. He supervised construction of the Shrine and the public appeal for funds, and in 1930 rewrote the inscription planned for the west wall himself. In 1929 the Institute of Engineers, Australia awarded Monash its highest honour, the Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal, and in June 1931 he was awarded the University of Melbourne's Kernot Memorial Medal for distinguished achievement in Australian engineering.

Contents | Introduction | The Soldier | The Man